“If it turns out that the explosives found were Semtex…”

In a major police operation on the eve of Constable Ronan Kerr’s funeral the PSNI seized a quantity of weapons and explosives in Coalisland, County Tyrone – which they have described as “the most significant in recent years”.  Which was interesting timing…

There have been two arrests in connection with Constable Kerr’s murder and further searches in the north Dublin area.

From the BBC report

The arms found were:

• Four Kalashnikov rifles

• Six loaded ammunition magazines

• Timer power units

• Detonators

• Incendiary bombs

• Components for rocket launchers and other explosive devices

• Quantity of explosives, possibly Semtex

As BBC NI home affairs correspondent, Vincent Kearney, adds

It has been a significant length of time since the police have uncovered an arms haul of this quantity and variety.

If it turns out that the explosives found were Semtex it will raise questions about whether dissidents have a new supply line or have access to explosives which formerly belonged to the Provisional IRA.

That possibility makes the delayed publication of the IICD and IMC reports all the more interesting.

Adds  Worth noting also that when Semtex was used in an attack in 2008 the PSNI ruled out the possibility of a new supply.  Subsequent to that attack, 2.5kg of Semtex, detonators, and ammunition were recovered by Gardaí in County Meath.

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  • braveheart

    Whats interesting is someone on here was talking about a coalisland connection last saturday after the attack in Omagh, and then this happens.

  • ranger1640

    The 2 that have been arrested, it will be interesting to see what their backgrounds are????

  • Pete Baker

    No-one’s been charged, nevermind convicted yet.

    So keep the speculation to a minimum!

  • ranger1640

    Sorry Pete your right.

  • George

    when in Semtex was used in an attack in 2008 the PSNI ruled out the possibility of a new supply.

    Actually the PSNI was not concerned about a new supply although I would hope they would rule nothing out. The Deputy Chief Constable said that the Semtex used in those devices was similar to those that used to be used in the province by “other groups”. Unfortunately there seems to be no expansion on what that means.

    “But when it (Semtex) was passed over to different groups, how it came to be in their possession, I don’t know at this point in time,” he added.

    I assume he still doesn’t know and the damned stuff is still out there.

  • Henry94

    So keep the speculation to a minimum!

    Unless of course you are speculating about what the explosives might be and hoping that it’s Semtex!!!

  • between the bridges

    ‘If it turns out that the explosives found were Semtex it will raise questions about whether dissidents have a new supply line or have access to explosives which formerly belonged to the Provisional IRA’…..gee wouldn’t that be a surprise!

  • Alias

    There aren’t any new supplies of Semtex. The Czech Republic nationalised the manufacturer of it 10 years ago and doesn’t licence the export more than 200 kilos of it per year (and only under strict licensing conditions). The old stock of Semtex had a life of 10 years, so this is either dodgy stuff or the intelligence service is supplying it for strategic state-sponsored terrorist purposes.

  • Carrickmoreman

    Wasn’t it accepted as fact that when the Cokes split with the Provos their leader, the former Quartermaster of the Provos, took many weapons?

    That version of the Reals has reportedly split up with one branch joining ONH. I’d assume they brought some old Provo weapons with them.

  • Alias

    Carrick, that could be but it doesn’t explain why explosives that are designed to last for a maximum of 10 years have supposed lasted for 25 years.

  • braveheart

    Semtex has a 40-50 year life span if it is stored right.

  • dwatch

    “No-one’s been charged, nevermind convicted yet.
    So keep the speculation to a minimum!”

    My speculation is that they both walk.

  • Alias

    “Semtex has a 40-50 year life span if it is stored right.”

    That’s one of the popular myths about Semtex (i.e. that it has an indefinate shelf life). In fact all Semtex manufactured prior to the 1996 had a shelf life of 10 years if stored correctly (which doesn’t include damp bunkers). All Semtex manufactured since that time has a shelf life of 5 years.

  • Alf

    Alias,

    Isn’t it feasible that it might still be useable post that shelf life?

  • Alias

    I’ve no idea. I know that some tests were done In Africa which found that it was degraded beyond use after its specified shelf life. At the end of the day, if the manufacturer specifies that it will last for 10 years under certain storage conditions then after that time it would be classifed as unuseable. But look at it this way, adduming the Provos got their Semtex from Libya in 1996, then that Semtex would have been supplied to Libya before 1981, so it is now 30 years old and highly unlikely to have been stored under optimum conditions. Since PIRA used it as last as 1997, then either it did exheed its shelf life or PIRA had a new supplier. It is designed by the manufacturer to ‘expire’ after 10 years then, and after 5 years now. That is a legal condition of its manufacture.

  • Alias

    Typo: “got their Semtex from Libya in 1985/6”

  • Alf

    Alias,

    I’m not an explosives expert or anything, but I’m assuming that the shelf life refers to its optimum performance. In other words 30 year old semtex might still retain 30% of its power or somesuch.

    Feasible?

  • Mark

    I’m no expert either Alias , can you trace semtex …..will the security forces been able to say whether the explosives that were used in Omagh on saturday were from the same batch that was found on tuesday night ?

  • Turgon

    I am not an organic chemist and have a vast respect for Alias. as such I am cautious about making any suggestion counter to what he says.

    However, I think Alf is likely to be correct here. Semtex was a commercial explosive. Its shelf life probably relates to predictability of making it explode; explosive power etc. Clearly if one is doing legitimate commercial explosive work such as quarry blasting this is vital to ensure you do not use too much, it goes off etc. If you are dissatisfied you will buy no more.

    However, used in a terrorist fashion it is much less controlled. As such even if it is not as reliable, not as powerful etc. if it is the best stuff the terrorists have then that is what they will use.

    The issue of shelf life and storage may favour NI terrorist storage in that chemical reactions are faster in warmer climates. As such even if the stuff degrades after 10 years in Africa; down a cold damp hole somewhere on this island it may well last a great deal longer.

    My understanding was the the Czech’s also changed the semtex when they realised how popular it was with terrorists and that the newer stuff is appreciably different. Hence, it can be told apart from any which the terrorists might have obtained more recently.

    As I said all the above comes with the warning that I am not a chemist nor a weapons junkie. I would, however, fear that Semtex might still be highly useful to terrorists many years after it was manufactured. Just think about unexploded bombs from the Second World War. They may be less likely to go off and may have less power than sixty years ago but are still treated with the greatest respect by the authorities when found. When detonated they also still make very big explosions.

  • Alf

    Mark,

    I would assume that they could at least date it. That would give them an indication of whether it came from the Provo supplies or not. If the explosives used in Omagh had deteroriated then it is possible that unexploded pieces of it could have been found by the forensics team.

  • George

    The old stock of Semtex had a life of 10 years, so this is either dodgy stuff or the intelligence service is supplying it for strategic state-sponsored terrorist purposes.

    Have read that it has a shelf life of 70 years or longer if kept right, what it loses is its malleability not its explosive power.

  • Alias

    As I said, that’s one of the popular myths. The science says that it had a shelf life of 10 years, and is now made with a shelf life of 5 years.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/prep.200900100/full

  • Rory Carr

    What’s the shelf life of this silly speculation on the properties of Semtex?

    Bloody interminable it seems.

  • George

    Can’t read that link alias as you have to be a registered user.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Rory Carr

    “Bloody interminable it seems.”

    Yes Rory, you can speculate about the source of the explosives because that merits a mention for the ‘Provisional IRA’.

    Although two people are arrested no one has been charged so speculation is not alowed in that case.

    Out of this speculation/non speculation is the shelf life of semtex which prompts further speculation.

    At this juncture it is fair to speculate that the speculation is not at an end.